While Jay crosses the street, chillin’ like he’s out for a casual stroll, I’m sweating, slinking into night shadows, staying low as a bug. I only need to pass five houses then cross to the opposite side of the street. Sounds easy? Not so much. During those seconds when I’m crossing, I’ll be as visible as the red circle on a shooting target. Can I make it without being seen? Not so sure, although I’ll never admit it.
Slipping behind a thick tree trunk, I glance over at Garth, who has finally ended his lip-lock and is strutting away from the house with a cocky swagger like a soccer star who scored the winning goal. His hasn’t noticed Jay yet, who has stopped walking and stands motionless beneath swaying curtains of willow branches.
I blink, and Jay is gone.
Garth pauses on the sidewalk, digging into his pocket and pulling out a key ring. The keys jangle an emergency warning signal to me—hurry! I have to get into covert position before Garth reaches his car. I peer over to where I last saw Jay. Still no hint of life behind the willow vines. It’s like Jay is made of invisibility.
A rumbling noise of an engine. Headlights shine down the road--heading my way. If I stand here the beams will mark me like a splash of paint in a paint ball battle. I press up against a tree, waiting for the car to pass and clasping my hands together around the phone like I’m praying. Don’t see me, don’t see me. I step off the sidewalk close to a tree, crouching down low. Light flashes. A whirl of movement rushes by. I hold my breath and wait the count of ten then peer at the street.
The car is gone but so is Garth.
Where did he go?
I look up and down the street, puzzled because his car is still parked in the same spot. I hear a scraping sound from plastic garbage can in the opposite driveway, and Garth’s head pops up, and I realize he hid from the passing car, too. The cheater afraid of the wrath of a jealous girlfriend.
Then I get serious because I still have to cross the street. I duck behind the bushes. And I can’t think of any way to do this without Garth seeing me. I watch him pass one house then another until he’s almost to his car. And I’m still not behind the bushes.
“Hey, Garth!” I hear Jay call out all friendly like he’s greeting one of his pals.
Garth spins around, so his back is toward me. I have my chance, and I go for it. Darting across the street, focusing on running silent and fast, holding my breath until my lungs burn for air. Only when I dive behind leafy green bushes do I breathe.
“You know me?” I hear Garth say in a shaky voice, but I don’t look up. I’m stealthily pushing aside leaves, until I’ve made a hole in the bushes perfect for filming. How do I power up that phone, anyway?
“The question is—do you know me?” Jay asks in the mocking deep voice of the Grin Reaper. I don’t have to look up to know how he must appear to Garth: all dressed in black except for the yellow smiley face on the back of his knit cap, an air of being tall and powerful, rippling with muscles like he could bend a tire iron like it was a tooth pick.
I’ve finally got the phone on, and search for the camera app. Okay, there it is on the bottom of the screen. I press for video and a red light flashes. Score!
Clutching the phone, I aim through the leafy opening at Garth’s back as he faces Jay. Only two dark eyes peer from Jay’s knitted mask.
“What the hell?” Garth growls.
“Have fun with your girlfriend?” Jay taunts, stepping closer at an angle that causes Garth to turn, giving me a clear view of his face.
“None of your…Hey, you‘re that Reaper dude!” Surprise shifts into closed-mouth, narrow-eyed anger. “What do you want?”
“Just a friendly conversation.” Jay’s voice is smooth; like a fisherman throwing a lure and waiting patiently for his prey to bite.
“Get out of my way.”
“I will after we talk.”
“I got nothing to say to you.”
“Not even about your friend?” The Reaper pauses. “Newt.”
“That geek isn’t a friend of mine. G-Get out of here before I call the cops.”
“That would be my pal Sheriff Hart. Go ahead, call him.”
“I will!” Garth’s voice rises. “I’ll probably get a reward, too.”
“Yeah--handcuffs and an uncomfortable ride to jail when I tell him all abut that knife you planted in Newton’s locker.”
“I did not!” Garth raises his fists but he backs up instead of going after Jay, and it’s obvious he’s all bluster and no spine.
“You know Newton’s locker combination.”
Garth frowns. “So what if I do? I wasn’t even near his locker.”
“Someone saw you,” Jay says accusingly.
Garth’s mouth falls open then he snaps it shut, glaring at Jay. “You’re lying! Even if I was by his locker, that doesn’t mean anything. That knife came from Newton’s weapon collection.”
“And you know all about his collection because he used to be your friend. You hung out together all in elementary school. Why turn on him now?”
“I don’t hang with losers.”
“Too smart, huh? Makes you look dumb,” Jay says almost sympathetically. “I don’t blame you for hating on him. Why should he have a great future when your only chance for college is a soccer scholarship but your stats aren’t what they used to be. You put the knife in his locker.”
I crouch down so low I can taste the dirt I’m stirring up, half-sitting as I hold the camera steady for a clear shot at the action. Garth clasps his hands together, fidgeting as if he isn’t sure whether to strike or run. Got to give him credit, though, when he stands his ground. I can’t see his face, but his body language is all stubborn and defiant as he snorts, “You can’t prove anything.”
“Are you forgetting the witness?”
“Lies. There wasn’t anything to see.”
“Want to bet your future on it?” Jay says quietly.
“Who’s the witness? Prove it, or get the hell out of my face.”
“I don’t have to prove it…yet. But what I can do is have a nice talk with your girlfriend.” A pause. “About you and Druscilla.”
“You…You saw that?” He glances over at Druscilla’s house, face paling to a sickly shade of gray like the concrete he’s standing on.
“And I took photos.” There’s something sexy about Jay’s grin, and I find it hard not to stare through the mask to his dark shining eyes.
“Don’t show her!” Garth cries. “Please!”
“If you care so much, why cheat on her?”
“She’s not the one who scares me—it’s her brothers. They’re on my team and they’ll kill me.”
“Like you killed Newton’s future?”
“Don’t worry about him.” Garth spits on the ground, too close to my hiding place. “Newt will do all right, he always does. But I’m toast if Missy Ann’s brothers find out about Dru.” A leaf tickles my cheek and I brush it away, my gaze tight on Garth whose shoulders hunch in defeat. “What do you want?”
“Not gonna happen.” Garth shakes his head. “I’ll get kicked off the team and expelled.”
“That would really suck for the team."
“Yeah,” Garth says quickly like he’s drowning and Jay offered him a floatie. “Is it fair to punish the team—the whole school—because of me?”
“You have a point.” Jay rubs his chin, thoughtfully. I’m not sure if he’s sincere or acting. He’s that good, and I’m enjoying watching his show.
“So you’ll go away and forget all about this?” Garth gestures to his second girlfriend’s house.
Jay nods. “I’m a soccer fan and don’t want our team to lose its best goalie.”
“So you won’t show Missy Ann the photos?” Garth asks hopefully.
“I’ll delete them,” he says like a solemn promise.
“Thanks, man. I owe you.”
“So tell me how you did it,” Jay says with a hint of admiration. “I can’t figure out how you got into Newton’s house and stole his knife without getting caught.”
“Easy.” Garth lifts his shoulders, swaggering. “I still have a house key from when I fed his family’s dog when they went on vacation. Newt’s such a geek, his room has all kinds of gaming stuff, dragons, posters and even costumes like he thinks he’s a real super hero. I was in and out with the knife quick.”
“Why frame him?” Jay asks. “He must have really pissed you off.”
I grip the camera steady but it’s awkward and my arm cramps. Pain shoots up through my shoulder to my neck. Ouch. Damn. Hurry the hell up, Jay!
“Everything Newt does pisses me off,” Garth complains in a relaxed tone like he and the Grin Reaper are pals. “He’s always acting so fake and superior, bragging about colleges begging to choose them. He deserved a dose of reality, so I gave it to him.”
“But how did you make sure he’d get caught?” Jay sounds so impressed that if I didn’t know better I’d believe he a Garth fan. “If I’d found a knife in my locker, I would have ditched it, not wait around for a teacher to find it.”
“I disguised my voice and made an anonymous report of Newt carrying a knife.”
“Good thinking,” Jay approves.
“Yeah. My parents think Newt is the smart one, but I got him good.” Garth tilts his head at Jay. “So we’re good? You won’t tell my girlfriend anything?”
“Not a word. See ya around.” Jay waves his gloved hand then whirls away. Garth scampers off like a beaten dog, slamming the door of his car and burning rubber as he leaves. Finally! Groaning in relief, I lower my arm as shut off the camera.
Headlights flash then disappear down the road with Garth. Jay’s car immediately pulls up beside my leafy hide-out. The window rolls down. “Get in,” he calls out to me.
I don’t hesitate, hurrying into the passenger seat and slamming the door.
“Get it all?” He whips off his knit cap, tossing it on the dash, grinning.
“Yeah. Not a bad show.” I toss the camera over to him and he catches it. “Really bold move to confront him.”
“He almost saw you. When I saw the camera light flashing from the bushes, so I knew I had to keep him facing me.”
“Thanks.” I rub my arm and pluck a leaf from my hair. “When will you show the video to Garth’s girlfriend?”
“Never. I told him I wouldn’t.”
“You also told him there was a witness.” I lean back comfortably in my seat. “Was there?”
Jay flashes a wicked smile. “There will be tomorrow.”
I chuckle as I guess where he’s going with this. “You-Tube, right? The link will spread like crazy. By lunch tomorrow it’ll have thousands of hits. Maybe millions.”
He shakes his head. “If I do that it’ll punish the victim, too. Newton doesn’t deserve that kind of humiliation.”
My seat belt digs into me as I twist to stare at him. “So what are you going to do with the video?”
“Send it to one person.”
I’m silent for a moment, thinking. Sheriff Hart? Principal Blank? Missy Ann?
When Jay tells me, I smile.Perfect.